Budgeting for 2017 Tech Needs

It’s that time of year: production rehearsals are in full swing and January 2017 is rapidly approaching. Between the time demands of work, family, and church, it is easy to overlook the need to prepare for the coming year. Tech needs are typically addressed only in panic mode when something important quits working. However, there is a better way to deal with the inevitability of the second law of thermodynamics (disordered state) than rushing out to buy something at the last minute. A little prep time spent now will pay off handsomely next year. In fact, thanks to Bruce and his Ross Perot inspired love of charts, here is a simple way to determine budgets and how much to spend on each area.

The parameters for the chart are appropriate for churches employing either a contemporary or blended worship environment with attendance ranging from 200 to 500. Traditional worship settings usually require 15% more tech budget if a full choir and orchestra are used and 15% less if the instrumentation is limited to piano and organ.

Generally speaking, ongoing tech budgets account for 5-7% of the total annual church budget. Since technology is constantly changing, the useful lifespan of products must be considered. Some items, such as main speakers, can last fifteen years while others, such as modest-cost wireless mics only last three. It is a good idea to plan for the “next major issue” by setting aside a small fixed amount each year and prepare for the purchase with a firm quote from a reputable dealer.

Maintenance items, such as cables, lamps, and connectors, are designed to serve a reasonable lifespan and only need replacement when they wear out. Most major label cables have a lifetime warranty, meaning you can drop them in a box, ship them back and receive new cables repeatedly. Or, since most cable failures are simple solder issues, you can rework them in a few minutes. Projector lamps should be changed when the half-life time is reached. The old lamp can then become an emergency spare if the new one fails unexpectedly.

Expendables, on the other hand, need replacement on a regular basis. Batteries and gaff tape are a weekly expense and should be stocked two weeks ahead (or more) so a forgetful moment does not create an emergency. There is some debate as to the value of rechargeable batteries versus single use alkaline. If the ministry is rigorous about scheduling and charges each and every time in exactly the same manner, rechargeable batteries are the answer. Most churches, however, fail to maintain the necessary discipline, making single use batteries the only option. While any brand name AA or 9V will usually work, the industry leans toward Duracell ProCells and Energizer Industrials for their consistent performance and package size. Gaff should be bought in bulk; a dozen or two at a time since shipping adds considerably to the cost and shipping twelve is just a couple dollars more than shipping two.

By setting aside 10% of the sanctuary tech budget each year, the most pressing large item need can be met. Avoid simply Googling for the lowest price.

Upgrades are the Christmas day gifts everyone wants but only sees once a year at the most. A new console or projector is certainly an enjoyable experience, but the budget has to be in place to make it a reality. By setting aside 10% of the sanctuary tech budget each year, the most pressing large item need can be met. Avoid simply Googling for the lowest price. Instead, focus on a reputable vendor who can explain the pros and cons of each model and who has one available for rent as well as a service arm to service the item when needed. Stewardship means selecting the best solution from the best source for the application at hand.

Dividing the tech budget among ministries presents some challenges, as each one believes theirs is the most vital to the church. Discretion and some political acumen can serve you well as you will have to defend your division of the pie before the board and within the staff. The reality is, most of the time the sanctuary gets the bulk of the budget with youth and children’s ministries making creative use of gear no longer used in the worship center. But, much can be done with what is available when some thought is put into the process.

Tech budgets are never large enough for dreams nor robust enough to last the full year unless you segment the available funds and perform an occasional miracle.

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